Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the first Sunday of Advent

November 29, 2020
St. Patrick Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas

Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19B; 64:2-7
Psalm 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Mark 13:33-37

In the reading from Isaiah today we hear a prophetic prayer of lamentation from a people who has been exiled after the destruction of the Temple. It calls God to manifest His presence and power as never before. Isaiah calls on God to redeem and to vindicate Israel as God promised that He would do. Israel feels that because God is silent, He is absent.

Isaiah cries out Israel’s need for God to return to them. Isaiah addresses God as “Vindicator” or “Redeemer.” Isaiah is reminding God that He is the one who conquered Israel’s oppressors and in so doing gave Israel new life and hope. It was God who delivered them out from slavery and despair. They long for the time when He will draw close to them again. When God returns to them then Israel can let go of their sins and be formed again — just as the clay is formed by the potter. 

Isaiah the prophet is addressing the Lord God. Usually, prophetic speech is addressed to human beings. Here, the prophet is echoing Moses in calling the Lord back to His foundational promises of fidelity to Israel. Yet, the fact that Isaiah is prophesying to God shows in a certain manner that Israel is worse off than even Isaiah grasps. He is prophesying to God about Israel’s desires for Him, when it is Israel who needs to receive the prophesy regarding God’s desires for them as His people, for them to let go of their sin and to return to Him with contrite hearts. Isaiah is speaking as if it is God who has drawn away from Israel and who has left them estranged and isolated, when in fact it is Israel who has pulled away from God and must repent and return to the promises of the Covenant. 

Isaiah reminds us to begin Advent conscious of God’s presence, forgiveness, and grace. Given our current events and circumstances, we might feel like God is absent and has abandoned us and that He needs to return to us and save us. But the truth is that we might feel this way because of our own sinfulness and need for repentance, in order for us to return to God in preparation for Christ’s return to judge us as our King. Advent is a time of preparation and repentance for us to return to God and His ways and to let go of our demands that we foolishly place upon God.

In the Gospel today, Jesus warns His disciples and us that we do not know when the time will come. The time is the moment we are overpowered by the Holy Spirit. This is the type of time known in Greek as Kairos, an opportunity for a pivotal change in the direction of our lives. This time could be a moment of joy or pain, a moment of victory or defeat, a moment when our confusions disappear or a moment of perplexity, a moment when we feel the weight of our sin or a moment when we feel forgiven. If we are not attentive there is a strong possibility that it will be a moment that can be easily missed by us. If we are caught up in the second sense of time known as chronos — the ordinary movement of time that measures a series of events that involve the web of human relationships and preoccupations that we weave daily — it may very easily pass us by. But Jesus warns us against that, and through the Holy Spirit, saves us from it. The call to be watchful and alert is a call to take time to be aware of how God is shaping our lives through our relationships and preoccupations. It is a call to silence. It is a call to listening. It is a call for conversion.

A powerful tool that the enemy uses to prevent us from being attentive to the time of God’s grace is to make us preoccupied or complacent with the times of our lives so that we think that we are already good enough disciples of the Lord. Often our habits and routines make our lives comfortable and secure and prevent us from seeing and doing things differently and lovingly. We stop looking for the opportunities that the Lord places in front of us and we settle for the events that happen to us.

The Lord never stops calling us, but many of us just stop listening at some point. When we are happy with things the way they are, then first we stop recognizing that knock on our door, then we stop caring. Advent is not simply that time of year, rather it is the time for our preparation to meet the Lord. Advent is the time for us to listen for the Lord in the silence instead of becoming so distracted as to confuse His silence with absence or His patience with apathy.

May this Advent not be simply another time of year but rather that it be the time of grace, a time to ask forgiveness for our sins in confession, a time to reflect and pray more often in silence, and a time to find ways to imitate Christ’s kindness and generosity toward us in our relations with other people.

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